River Lee Project

Weir at Ballincollig Gunpowder Mllls/ Regional Park

From In the Steps of St. Finbarre, Voices and Memories of the Lee Valley (Kieran McCarthy, 2006)

This project is based on research carried out in the River Lee valley (2006-2012) and published in my Our City, Our Town column in the Cork Independent. Three books emerged from the project.


In the Steps of St Finbarre coverIn the Steps of St Finbarre, Voices and Memories of the Lee Valley (2006) 

 A book, which grew out my column in the Cork Independent, it focusses on the journey of the Lee and the key places of settlement, monuments and community leaders all the way along the valley. It contains lots of pictures and alot of original material previously not drawn together (any good bookshop). 




Generations coverGenerations: Memories of the Lee Hydroelectric Scheme (co-edited, 2008).

A book co-written with Seamus O’Donoughue, the work was published by the ESB to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Inniscarra Dam being commissioned. The work contains many pictures of the  Lee Scheme being constructed and pictures of the ‘before and after’ of  the affected landscape. It also profiles the positives and negatives of such an extensive venture for its day;  http://www.lilliputpress.ie/listbook.html?oid=84588740



Iheritance, Heritage and Memory in the Lee Valley, Co CorkInheritance, Heritage and Memory in the Lee Valley (2010) 


This book is based on the series of articles that featured in the Cork Independent newspaper from October 2007 to June 2009. It documents my explorations in the parishes of Aghabullogue, Inniscarra and Ovens on the northern valleyside on Inniscarra Reservoir, part of the course of the River Lee. It encompasses much fieldwork and oral history testimonies. The book is published by Nonsuch Ireland. http://kieranmccarthy.ie/wordpress/?p=2415

 sales: http://www.thehistorypress.ie/product.asp?strParents=&CAT_ID=&P_ID=493

Ode to the River Lee (part 1):

My first impressions of the Lee were through Sunday drives with my family to Farran Woods. The Lee Valley provided a chance to escape from pressures of homework and growing up. Farren Woods provided an idealised world for where castles and fights were all dreamt up, bow and arrows made and always a victory won against imaginary foes. On those sunny days, perhaps life was calmer and less complicated to create and defend an imaginary fortress rather than trudge into school every morning. I remember the radio on those Sunday afternoons, just turned up to here the results of the Cork GAA team winning and losing and the associated cheers and sighs of disbelief as if the world would be a better place if Cork won rather than lose !


I remember trips to Gougane vaguely and the Shehy Mountains soaring up high. I remember in later years with my dad, walking up the path in Gougane Barra’s Forest Park searching for the source of the River Lee and finding to my discontent no neon light sign with an arrow pointing to the source but just a spring…well a puddle! Perhaps it was in those early days that my love of heritage was nurtured by my parents, my Nan and my teachers. Those were good days and provided a foundation for my interest in all things Cork. I was further inspired years later, teaching local history in Cork primary schools and telling the legend of St. Finbarre and his walk down the Lee from Gougane Barra to Cork and there to set up a monastery. The monastery was the beginning of Cork and overlooked nearly twenty marshy islands, a canvas of landscape that in centuries to come was top be filled by settlers all trying to not only make a living but also to survive. I am always amazed at how St. Finbarre, Cork’s patron Saint is cherished, even after 1,400 years. His myth endures despite the various ages of reason through the centuries. It is the leagcy of St. Finbarre, Cork patron’s saint that gives the city part of it core spiritual identity.


The origin of the name Lee is sketchy and legend reputedly attributes the name to an ethnic group known as the Milesians from Spain who reputedly arrived in Ireland several thousand years before the time of St. FinBarre. Legend has it that the Milesians acquired land in Southern Munster, which they named ‘Corca Luighe’ or ‘Cork of the Lee’ from Luighe, the son of Ith who attained the land after the Milesian advent to Ireland. The River Lee – An Laoi over the centuries has had many variations in its spelling. In early Christian texts such as the Book of Lismore, it is described as Luae. It has also been written as Lua, Lai, Laoi and the Latin Luvius. An entry in the Annals of the Four Masters in the year 1163 A.D. names the River Sabhrann. However, many scholars agree on the name Lee as the most common name of the River.


         The area drained by the Rive Lee and its tributaries is about 400 square miles and has a number of tributaries. The principal drainage is from the north from the Derrynasaggert and Boggeragh Mountains whilst in the south the watershed is lower and supplies a lesser volume of drainage. The Lee can also be divided up into three well-defined stretches, the first is the highland and foremost rugged section from Gougane Barra to near Macroom. The second section is the immediate area affected by the Hydro Electric Scheme encompassing Carrigadroid and Inniscarra Reservoirs to where the river meets the tidal estuary at Cork City’s Lee Fields. The third section is the complex tidal estuary of Cork Harbour. This book focuses on the first two sections and on the river’s immediate path and valleyside from source to Cork City.

Map of Lee catchment area 

The Lee Valley is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Ireland and echoes a human presence of over 5,000 years. The landscape provides memorable, panoramic to intimate views for the human eye, all woven together to create a tapestry of beauty. Ireland’s recent Celtic Tiger economy has brought unprecedented changes in society; it has brought affluence, immigration and a conflict of the global and the local. The Lee Valley has been affected by the architecture of the last century and twentieth-first century. The landscape has witnessed large-scale feats of engineering such as Inniscarra Dam and the associated reservoir to one-off housing. Contrasting all of that, the landscape is still essentially rural with a strong farming population.


The River Lee is an extension of city life. In a sense, the notion of a divide between town and country are merged. Places such as the Shehy Mountains or the pilgrim site of St. Finbarre’s Gougane Barra and Cork Harbour are connected. Indeed, the river for many of us Corkonians provides a link with times past and that a sense of civic pride. Many of us have crossed over the River’s bridges and have appreciated its tranquil hypnotic flow. It reflects vitality, engages the senses and presents a sense of mystery and secrecy. Despite the parapet walls, the River Lee is an accessible amenity that all can appreciate but for the most part in recent decades, we have largely ignored.


The geography of the visible River valley is fractured and diverse. It is a beautiful landscape, a landscape transformed through the centuries by people. The diverse archaeological monuments from Stone Age tombs to the solitary Norman or Irish castle to the nineteenth century churches reflect the use of the River Lee Valley and its scenery and resources by its residents for the nourishment of the soul, living and surviving.  The townland names of the ordnance survey reflect a human story especially the impact of human history on the natural landscape. It is an impact, which spans thousands of years.


For the majority of us Corkonians, we see the River Lee as an inspirational feature in Cork life, one, which is sacred. It is a feature, which each successful generation of Corkonian is brought up to respect, just like our other sacred places such as the Lough and Fitzgerald’s Park. This work seeks to awaken an interest in the welfare of the River Lee Valley. The history and geography of the Valley is hidden and scattered along its sixty-kilometre journey from the Shehy Mountains to Cork City. The book is not a definitive work on the valley but attempts to highlight, discover, appreciate and explore an area through the voices of visiting antiquarians, historical societies, Corkonians, locals, maps and panoramic images. This work investigates the relationships between people and place, which have created different landscapes within the River Lee Valley. It discusses the different meanings of the river for not only Cork people but also for those whose life journeys began elsewhere and who crossed and were inspired like myself by its flow and the human and natural landscapes it influences. Moreover, this book is my call to encourage all Corkonians to go out and explore our own lovely River Lee.

Colour Pictures from my Book, In the Steps of St.Finbarre, Voices and Memories of the Lee Valley


Near the Source, Gougane Barra Forest Park


Gougane Barra Lake, May 06

Gougane Barra Pilgrimage Island, stone altar

Shehy Mountains, field systems

Gougane Barra by George Petrie, c.1830

Casadh na Spride, public park, Feile Pratai - Community event, Ballingeary

Lough Allua

Potted landscape, Lough allua including crannog, base left, Mehigan's Island



Stained glass window of St. Finbarre, Church of St. Finbarre and the Holy Angels, Inchigeela

Inchigeela, Co. Cork

Tranquil flow, River Lee at Dromcarra

The Gearagh with Ted Cook and Breda Harrington

The Gearagh 5 06

Sunset over Carrigadrohid Reservoir

Carrigadrohid River Bank

Carrigadrohid Castle

Inniscarra Reservoir

Inniscarra Dam, Class Visit

Finbarre Crowley at Rooves Stone Row

River Lee, Ballincollig Gunpowder Mills, 6 06

Jenny Webb, local historian, Ballincollig giving a tour

Carrigrohane Straight Road, from top of County Hall, 6 06

Sunlight Narratives, Lee Fields, Carrigrohane